Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Art of Bioreactor/Fermenter Scale-Up (or Scale-Down)

by Dr. Deb Quick

Effective bioreactor or fermenter scale-up/down is essential for successful bioprocessing. During development, small scale systems are employed to quickly evaluate and optimize the process, but larger scale systems are necessary for producing commercial quantities at a reasonable cost. But how does one effectively transfer the process between scales so that the process performs the same?

In an ideal world, the physiological microenvironment within the cells/microorganisms will be conserved at the different scales, but with no direct measure of that microenvironment the scientist identifies relevant macroproperties to measure and control to ensure comparability. There are many macroproperties and operating parameters that define the process at each scale, and while the goal is to keep as many of those parameters constant between the scales, it simply isn’t possible to keep them all the same.

When using the same operating parameters at small and large scale is impractical, there are several correlations that are commonly used: mass transfer coefficient (kLa [the volumetric transfer coefficient, 1/hr] or OTR [oxygen transfer rate, mmol/hr]; volumetric power consumption (P/V, agitation power per unit volume); agitator tip speed; and mixing time.

Matching the kLa at different scales is generally considered the most important factor in scaling cell culture and microbial processes. The second most common approach is to match the power consumption. For both of these correlations, there are often multiple combinations of operating parameters that provide the same kLa or the same power consumption at the different scale. And herein lies the art of bioreactor and fermenter scale-up/down. Selecting the best combination of parameters to match process performance at different scales is an art. There is no magic combination that works best for all cell types and products.

To establish comparability at different scales, you’ll make your life significantly easier if you start with the same vessel design at the different scales, but this luxury is rarely reality. More often, the development lab has significantly different equipment than the manufacturing facility. But even with different reactor designs, comparable performance can be obtained at different scales through appropriate experimentation.
  • First, you’ll need to understand your equipment at all scales: measure the kLa and P/V of the different scales over a wide range of air flows, agitation rates, working volumes, and backpressures. It’s best to perform the testing in your process media, if possible. If you can find the time, it’s useful to evaluate different mixing schemes at small scale - different impeller styles and positions, baffles, and sparger styles and positions (particularly valuable if you already know the differences in these features between small and large scale systems available to you).
  • Second, you’ll need to understand how your product responds to the different operating parameters. Those dreaded statistically designed experiments (DoE) are particularly useful for understanding the effects and interactions of the many parameters that can be changed. Performing DoE experiments at small scale with your product to evaluate the effects of aeration, agitation, and volume will not only help you with scale-up, but will also provide useful information for setting acceptable ranges for the operating parameters at large scale. As with the kLa studies, it’s useful to study different mixing schemes at small scale if time allows. One set of experiments that is highly useful but rarely performed is the evaluation of the process performance at the same kLa (or P/V) obtained using different operating parameters.
Understanding your equipment and how your product responds to various operating conditions is the key to effective process scale-up and scale-down. Despite the historical and ongoing need for scaling bioprocesses up and down, there is no strategy that works in all situations. The art of successful scale-up lies in thoughtful experimental design and thorough data analysis in order to obtain the information that allows equivalent performance at all scales.

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